Amiable Amelia Island Florida by Dave Finn
Fernandina Beach, FL – Amelia Island is located in the northeastern coastal region of Florida. Even though it’s only two miles wide and thirteen miles long, it’s a naturalist’s wonderland. Anchored by park reserves at each end, the city is bordered by the expansive white quartz sand beaches of the Atlantic Ocean and mounded sand dunes that naturally protect the fauna and wildlife. On your strolls you may encounter nesting loggerhead or green turtles, egrets, herons, whitetail deer and bobcats. Small in size but big on stature, it’s no wonder Amelia Island was voted one of the “Top 25 Islands in the World” by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler in 2013 and for eight consecutive years has been awarded a spot in the “Top 10 Islands in the United States”.
My most memorable moment was standing on the dock at the Harbour Marina gazing across the Amelia River which is part of the Intracoastal Waterway. As I waited patiently for what the locals declare is “Florida’s First Sunset”, I realized how apropos the inscription above featured on a plaque in our condo truly was. When I paused to watch the sun’s slow descent, I was truly at rest. Not an easy feat in our wired world!
Fernandina Beach is a vibrant Victorian seaport village that forms the hub of Amelia Island. Boasting a 50+plus block historical district comprised of century old mansions, cottages, boutiques and interesting shops, you’ll feel like you have taken a step back in time as you explore the area. If you find lighthouses as intriguing as I do, check out the Amelia Island Lighthouse, reportedly the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in Florida. Looking for more action? This is also the place to test your angling skills with world-class fishing. Feeling a little parched? Looking for a bit more history? Let me suggest that you swing into the Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest bar. But whatever else you do, make sure you arrange your day so you can enjoy a fabulous sunset on the patio at Brett’s Waterway Café.
There a number of vacation property options to choose from including charming B&Bs, inns, motels and hotels, condominiums and private home rentals, in addition to three world-class resorts. We stayed at the Summer Beach Resort which offers a variety of full equipped oceanfront condos, villas and townhouses with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. Great for anyone who prefers a home away from home!
Golf & More Golf
With 117 holes in total on the island believe me, you’ll have plenty of variety if you choose Amelia Island as your next vacation destination. The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort offers three 18-hole championship courses including Pete Dye’s Oak Marsh, Bobby Weed’s Ocean Links and Tom Fazio’s Long Point. Mark McCumber and Gene Littler collaborated on the 18 hole design at the Golf Club of Amelia Island and there’s 27 holes at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club as well as another 18 holes at the Tom Jackson’s Amelia River. Unfortunately we only had a chance to play two of these gems.
At the beginning of our round we were warmly greeted by a very friendly and informative starter by the name of Gene Barashed who hails originally from Pennsylvania. Gene advised us that “90% of greens were elevated even though they may not look like it – so take an extra club”. He also assured us that “there are NO poisonous snakes or alligators here but you’ll find lots of turtles”. Thanks for the heads up Gene!
We found Ocean Links to be two different courses in one – parkland and ocean offering five seaside holes and ten heavily forested ones that wind around lakes and marshland. The greatest stretch of maybe holes #4 through #6 where each one runs parallel to the protected dune ridges of the Atlantic Ocean but without a doubt the 6th hole is the most picturesque. Gene suggested that we “climb up to the tips for your best vantage point” and he was right again! Here we were treated to a spectacular view of this downhill par 3 that showcased the resort on one side and the pristine beach on the other.
Arguably hole #15 through #17 were the most difficult. The 15th tee points directly towards the ocean on this impressive uphill par 3 so the wind will always be a factor. #16 is an intimidating par 4 that again runs parallel to the ocean with a blind tee shot to a tough downhill green that slopes away. The 17th is a sweeping dog leg left with a pond running down the entire left side. There’s a generous fairway to work with but the green is perched at the end of the pond making it nigh on impossible to go for it in two.
You’ll find the very irregular shaped, crested Bermuda Tiff dwarf greens fast but sandy. In addition, the swales around greens are punishing so accuracy and distance are critical. A short approach will roll back off the green and fly it too long and watch your ball funnel off the back.
This par 70 features six par 3s and may very well be one of the most difficult courses I’ve ever played and my scorecard proves it. I kept wondering to myself “what if …?” This layout is incredible but the conditioning was less then desirable. I spoke to Head Professional, Dan Hackney after our round who told me “we do not over-seed and have no plans to do so in the future”. Pity!
The Golf Club of Amelia Island at Summer Beach is a more traditional inland Florida layout that meanders through the woods with water coming into play on 13 holes. My favourites were the 4th – a par 4 with a pond running along the left side of green on your approach and the 5th – a par 3 over a pond with a wooden retaining wall that formed a most interesting backdrop. The front nine is somewhat tight but the back nine offers wider, more forgiving fairways. I found the bunkers to be soft and overall the course was well-manicured and in great condition.
When I interviewed Head Professional, Clayton Boggs he confirmed that they do over-seed to keep the course green most of the year. When I asked why others do not do the same, he simply answered “we are affiliated with The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island so our clientele expect top notch conditioning”. As the saying goes, different strokes for different folks!
While Amelia Island boasts many fabulous restaurants, one of my personal favorites was Espana Restaurant & Tapas, though making a decision on what to eat was definitely a challenge with more than 17 hot and cold tapas, an amazing array of salads and numerous tempting entrees on the menu. In the end we settled on the Caracoles (Escargot Andalusia Style appetizer) at $7.95 and the Calderada de Mariscos (Portuguese Fisherman Stew) for two at $44.95. Good choices, if I do say so myself. I’m still savoring the flavours and while many folks prefer white wine with seafood, let me suggest you won’t be disappointed if you go against the grain and choose a bottle of Jed Steele’s Shanty Star Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County CA – a steal at $32.
For lunch, I’d recommend the blackened grouper sandwich at the Marsh View Bar and Grill at the 19th hole at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort. It was simply the freshest and best tasting fish sandwich I’ve ever had.
If you’re driving south along I-95 take A1A East right after you cross the Georgia state line. You can also fly into Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) from a number of major US Cities and drive an easy 30 minutes northeast to reach this seaside retreat.
To find out more about Amelia Island visit http://www.ameliaisland.com/ or http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/fernandina-beach.html . For Stay & Play Golf Packages starting at $125USD per person per night visit Florida’s First Coast of Golf at http://www.florida-golf.org/
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